San Francisco’s restaurants are reaching new heights of expense, from the corner store forced to raise prices because of an increased minimum wage to high-end tasting menus reaching for the (Michelin) stars. But exactly when a restaurant earns the privilege to charge through the nose is something that is up for debate, according to Chron dining critic Michael Bauer. In a recent op-ed, titled "When new restaurants push the price too far, too quickly," Bauer brings up two recently opened restaurants as main examples of restaurants that are operating above their very high pay grade (at least reputation-wise): Mosu, and Hashiri.
"What shocks me about Mosu and Hashiri is the audacity of the pricing out of the gate. The Bay Area is in a period when prices are skyrocketing and people are becoming numb to the $30 main course — but Mosu and Hashiri push new boundaries. From what I experienced, compared to other established places, the prices weren't justified."
Here's the TL;DR on all the restaurants that Bauer called out as "worth it" and "not worth it."
Not Worth It
Mosu: Opened in February of 2016, offering a 10-course menu for $195 right out of the gate. Chef/owner Sung Anh is lacking in name recognition, with Mosu serving as his first foray into running his own kitchen.
Hashiri: Opened in May of 2016, offering a 12-course kaiseki-style menu for $250 per person; $300 for a seat at the sushi counter, and $500 for a special premium menu. This is the second location of the restaurant, the first of which is in Japan.
Benu: Opened in 2010, offering a 12-course tasting menu for $160. Since then the restaurant's tasting menu has risen to $268; it has also earned three Michelin stars and countless accolades; the chef, Corey Lee, has also opened two additional restaurants (Monsieur Benjamin and In Situ).
Atelier Crenn: Opened in 2011. It originally offered a three- ($59) or five-course ($75) menu that diners could create themselves. Now the 18-course tasting menu is $220, and the prices include the service charge. Dominique Crenn has also earned two Michelin stars, the title of Best Female Chef and opened a second restaurant (Petit Crenn).
Quince: opened in a smaller space (where Octavia now operates), offering a five-course menu for $85. The restaurant upgraded to a larger space in Jackson Square in 2012, with four-course menu (with choices) for $95, and a nine-course menu for $140. In 2016, the eight-plus course tasting menu is $220, and the abbreviated weekday summer tasting menu is $165.
Californios: opened in January 2015. At opening, the seven-course menu was $57, then quickly jumped to a nine-course menu for $75, then 12 to 16 courses for $125. Now it is $157.
Bauer notes that Eater critic Bill Addison calls the Bay Area "the best fine dining destination in America." And though the Bay Area's oversized fine dining scene has not successfully numbed consumers to the price tags associated with that kind of restaurant, he also notes that all 50 seats at Benu are filled each night, while newcomers charging the seasoned veterans' prices aren't close to full.
Here is a full breakdown of the menu prices at SF's top fine dining restaurants:
Ultimately, Bauer decides that "It shows that no matter the price tag, there has to be a sense of value. High prices are not a given; they have to be earned."
What do you think? How long must a restaurant operate, and what accolades must it earn to charge many hundreds of dollars for a tasting menu? Tell us in the comments.